Kadima leader Tzipi Livni and her party rival, MK Shaul Mofaz, escalated their dispute to a new level at Monday's Kadima faction meeting when they fought over whether the next leadership race in the party should be advanced.
According to Kadima's bylaws, the race is set for two to three months before the next general election, which is currently set for November 2013. Mofaz has been pleading with Livni over the past two weeks to advance the race to spring 2010.
"I want you to make a decision about this," Mofaz told her in the closed-door meeting. "I heard in the press that you said you are strong and I am weak, so prove it. I think that your stalling and delaying a decision about this could lead to a crisis in Kadima. Don't hide behind the party's bylaws, Tzipi. Make a decision."
Livni responded by saying she would immediately call for a vote in the faction about advancing the primary, unless Mofaz insisted otherwise, which he did. He said that according to the party's bylaws, a vote could not be taken on the issue because it was not on the agenda of the meeting.
Other MKs backed up Mofaz and said it was not serious to call for an immediate vote on such a serious issue. Kadima faction chairwoman Dalia Itzik intervened and put a stop to the fight, which the two sides then continued in briefings to the press.
"Mofaz surrendered and ran away at the moment of truth," a source close to Livni said. "She took her gloves off and put him in a corner and he got stressed, gave up and lost. It shows that he is in a bad state politically."
Mofaz fiercely attacked Livni's decision to turn down Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's offer to join a national-unity government when he formed his coalition in March.
"The state is suffering from Kadima not being in the government, and so is the party," Mofaz said. "The faction has people who have gotten a lot done and we haven't accomplished anything in the past nine months. When I see the damage she did to the country and the party, I can't sit quietly. I will ask here to initiate a primary every week until she agrees."
Mofaz accused Livni of trying to trick the MKs and said that she only called for a vote in the faction after consulting her strategic advisers via text message, a charge Livni's associates denied and called pathetic. They said they knew in advance that Mofaz would repeat his call for a primary and she came prepared.
"I was impressed by her ability to make decisions after getting an SMS," Mofaz said mockingly.
He raised the issue of the NIS 34 million debt incurred by Kadima during the November 2008 municipal races. He accused Livni and MKs close to her of distributing money to candidates who supported him in order to switch their allegiance.
The issue is currently being investigated by State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss. But Mofaz said he was preparing to take the issue to the police.
Despite all the infighting, two events were held in Kadima on Monday to try to improve relations among the MKs. The first was a meeting at the Knesset initiated by MK Avi Dichter, who has tried to mediate among warring lawmakers.
The second was a festive meal at a fancy restaurant in the capital's picturesque Ein Kerem neighborhood. The repast was attended by Livni, Mofaz, MKs who nearly split the party last week, and even by MK Eli Aflalo, who failed to obtain Kadima's permission on Monday to split off into a one-man faction.
MKs present at the event reported that Livni danced with other lawmakers. MK Ronnie Bar-On sang on stage, and much laughter was heard in a good atmosphere, despite everything that had happened earlier in the day.